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Three key questions for the Three Lions after the international break

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The recent international friendlies against Germany and Holland should have given England Manager Roy Hodgson a clearer indication of who is in the reckoning to start against Russia, in the opening match of Euro 2016.

Although England qualified with ease for the summer showdown in France, they were not really challenged. In Germany and Holland though, they were given a much sterner test and their credentials for the Euros can be gauged more clearly.

Here are three key questions that remain and must be addressed by Hodgson & co, heading into the tournament:

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1. WHO SHOULD ENGLAND PLAY UP-FRONT?

This is perhaps the most pertinent of question that arose after the international break.

In Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy, England are fortunate enough to have the two in-form Premier League strikers in their ranks. However, with Wayne Rooney still sidelined and Daniel Sturridge lingering, questions remain.

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What the international break did prove was that both Kane and Vardy can mix it with the best. Vardy's exquisite flick against Germany was a testament to both his movement and technical ability.

Meanwhile, Kane scored a wonderful goal against Germany, after a tremendous Cruyff turn and made a difference after coming on against Holland.

While pundits have been calling for Hodgson to not start Rooney, barring injury this seems highly unlikely, given Rooney is the captain, a senior figure and England's all-time top-scorer.

The only plausible way of deploying all three is to play Rooney at 10. At 30, this would seem the best option for a player lacking the necessary pace, but with an ability to drift in-between channels, drift back and do the defensive work and shoot from distance.

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With that in mind, it seems that Rooney is most likely to start at 10 for England, with Kane upfront on his own. The Tottenham forward's ability to hold up play edges him in front of Vardy in the pecking order at this moment in time.

It seems likely that Vardy will be deployed as an impact sub. His lightning-quick speed and clever movement would provide a real headache for tiring defenders.

Not many defenders in the world would fancy facing a fresh Jamie Vardy with 15 minutes left to play.

Additionally, a fit-and-firing Sturridge is certainly hard to ignore. If the Liverpool man has an impressive finish to the season and remains injury-free, he certainly has a case to be in the manager's plans.

With Danny Welbeck a strong contender to start in a front three just behind the striker, Hodgson has the option to take four strikers.

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This is certainly a question mark that Roy Hodgson will not be complaining about, though!

2. BEST CENTRE-MIDFIELD COMBINATION?

The centre-midfield combination has long plagued England. Even when the Three Lions were blessed with Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard at the centre of the park they struggled to develop any chemistry.

With that in mind, perhaps Dele Alli and Eric Dier are the front runners to start in France?

The Spurs pair have impressed all season and have been key to their success in the league.

In Dier, England have a player who is happy to sit in front of the top four and provide that extra protection, whilst often surging forward. Dier also offers a real threat at set-pieces, as demonstrated by his powerful headed winner against Germany.

Germany v England - International Friendly

Meanwhile his Spurs team-mate Alli has been something of a revelation this season. The former MK Dons' starlet has proven his ability can translate to the international stage, with a majestic display against an experienced German defence.

However, against Germany he was deployed at 10, given the freedom to really influence the game and perhaps defensive duties were not as important. Nevertheless, Alli has proved his metal in defence and certainly doesn't shy away from a challenge - despite his slender frame.

Whether or not their form translates to the big stage is another matter, but this option should be strongly considered by Hodgson.

The more likely to start, however, is Jordan Henderson. The Liverpool man has been a mainstay with England during Hodgson's tenure. Henderson has an excellent engine and is competent at set-pieces, but whether or not he can unlock a defence remains to be seen.

The same can be said for James Milner. A tried and tested player, who will give you that consistency, heart and leadership. However, technically he is limited and it is more likely he will go to France as a versatile squad player.

England v Netherlands - International Friendly

Whilst Arsenal's Jack Wilshere solves many of these problems and would certainly get on the plane to France if fit, his fitness remains a massive problem. Even if off the treatment table in time, chances are he will be seen as too big a risk for Hodgson and England.

An outside bet is Danny Drinkwater. The Leicester man has been at the heart of their incredible Premier League campaign. As demonstrated against the Netherlands, Drinkwater is a tidy and intelligent footballer; an astute organiser in midfield and very obliging with the defensive duties.

However, selection in central midfield is dependent largely on both the system and formation deployed, which could change depending on the opposition and context of the game and tournament.

3. PREFERRED CENTRE-BACK PAIRING?

The performances of Chris Smalling this summer have been very impressive and means he is almost certain to start in France. Hodgson will hope that his performances for Manchester United will translate into an England shirt.

However, the jury is still out as to who will partner Smalling in defence, with nobody doing enough to really nail down their place and the defence remaining a problem area for England.

England v Netherlands - International Friendly

Everton’s John Stones has displayed glimpses of excellence and shown exactly what all the hype is about. Nevertheless, Stones has been very inconsistent and often played himself into trouble.

This was exemplified against Holland. The young Lion went for a daring turn and proceeded to slip, which eventually led to a Dutch goal. However, Stones’ distribution was superb and his tendency to play it out from the back and pick a pass really benefitted England.

Stones' Everton team-mate Jagielka is sure to get on the plane to the Euros, however his limited game-time suggests that he is considered no more than a reliable back-up, for England.

On the other hand, Chelsea's Gary Cahill has endured a difficult season at Stamford Bridge. However, the centre-back has matured into a senior player for Chelsea, given Terry's injury problems. The fact that Hodgson named him as captain for the Germany game indicates that he is, in fact, a front-runner alongside Smalling.

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Cahill is definitely the more conservative option here, but he is perhaps the more reliable of the two. However, what he will not give you is the ability to pick out a pass and give you that real go-forward from the back.

Whilst the various options do need to be considered, as anything could happen between now and the Euro's, England must ensure that the centre-backs get significant game time together. They need time to help understand each other's games, tendencies and build up some chemistry.

Perhaps the next block of international friendlies will provide the opportunity to address these key questions and allow England to go to the Euros with clarity and confidence!

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Topics:
Wayne Rooney
Jack Wilshere
England Football
Football
Premier League
Gary Cahill
James Milner

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